Travel

See the Cool Side of Paris with These Unexpected Escapades

Appreciate the cliches without being a cliche.

Catarina Belova/Shutterstock
Catarina Belova/Shutterstock
Catarina Belova/Shutterstock

Of all the great cities I’ve lived in across the world, it’s hard to argue that any of them stir as much longing and adoration as Paris. The streets overflow with grand old buildings, ornate yet simple chairs and tables on the sidewalks, troves of art, and (of course) richly decadent food… this list could go on and on. The point that hardly needs be made is that Paris is fantastique.

But the most common complaint usually involves the overcrowded tourist sites. It is true, for example, that the wealth of beauty afforded by the Louvre can get obscured behind the hordes of line-wearied visitors aggressively vying for the best selfie position.

But your experience doesn’t have to be tousled by such touristic tempests. Paris has plenty to offer if you’re looking to escape the crowd and venture further off the radar, whether you’ve already seen the highlights, or if you’re looking to do a mix of your Eiffel Tower whatnots with your dive bars and funky markets. Luckily, we have here for you suggestions ranging from slightly less frequented alternatives to the usual hotspots and hidden corners where few tourists roam.

Joao Paulo V Tinoco/Shutterstock
Joao Paulo V Tinoco/Shutterstock
Joao Paulo V Tinoco/Shutterstock

Stay in newly trending neighborhoods

There are many beautiful districts or arrondissements throughout Paris, with the most popular among visitors being those nearest the river such as Montparnasse, the upper Latin Quarter, Saint-Germain, and Les Halles, as well as Bastille and lower Montmartre. But if you’re willing to find accommodations in lesser known regions, you’ll not only avoid the crowds, you can ease the strain on your wallet too. Less cost and crowding don’t mean less in the way of things to do, either. These neighborhoods are rich with delicious restaurants, artistic experiences, pretty parks and streets, and everything else that brought you to Paris in the first place.

Jaures, for example, is located in the north-central part of the city, and it offers art galleries, outdoor markets, the Rue LaFayette thoroughfare painted by Van Gogh, and traditional French diners mixed in with flavorful eats from the immigrant community. It also provides convenient access to the rest of the city via the Stalingrad and Juares metro stops.

Meanwhile the lower Latin Quarter and upper Montmartre areas provide easy access to these popular districts while avoiding some of the bustle and expense. And the eastern segments of the city like Charonne, Pere Lachaise, and Bel-Air are gaining more buzz, as more and more businesses are pushed outward by rising rents in the city center.

photo.ua/Shutterstock
photo.ua/Shutterstock
photo.ua/Shutterstock

Experience arts beyond the Louvre

As mentioned, the Louvre can be an intimidating and draining destination. Located just over the river, however, is Musee D’Orsay. While it’s certainly popular in its own right, D’Orsay isn’t quite as overrun as its more famous cousin. It’s also more compact and focused, making it a somewhat less daunting collection. But that doesn’t mean it skimps on the amazing art.

From celebrated painters like Van Gogh, Monet, Degas, Cezanne, Courbet, and way too many others to list, the collection is nothing short of awe-inspiring. Plus there’s an array of sculptures by Rodin and an expansive selection of classical sculptures portraying figures and scenes from myth and history. The museum is housed in a historic train station that is uniquely gorgeous.

If you’re looking for some artist haunts with a current lively kick, the discrete Au Lapin Agile is a cabaret club that has existed since the 1860s, located on the upper shoulders of Montmartre. During its heyday of the early 1900s, it became the hangout of artists like Picasso, Apollinaire, Modigliani, and more, and there’s an apocryphal story that Picasso used to pay for his meals with drawings on napkins. Today you can still go to Au Lapin Agile for drinks and to watch performances by poets, singers, and cabaret troops.

For some bookish arts, there’s Maison de Balzac. Long before there was an MCU, Honore de Balzac created the shared universe of La Comedie Humaine, a sprawling collection of over 100 novels that is widely considered one of the greatest literary achievements of all time. Maison de Balzac is the author’s home, where he did much of his writing. Located just over the river from the Eiffel Tower, it’s a quiet place to take a break from the throngs of the more crowded sites nearby.

PAINPAIN
PAINPAIN
PAINPAIN

Eat duck, pastries, and North African delicacies

In the heart of Montmartre you’ll find (or smell) Pain Pain, a traditional French bakery and patisserie that is famous for its baguettes and wide-ranging pastries. The baguettes are, of course, a must (you know, Paris). As far as pastries go, choose whichever looks the most delicious, and you can’t go wrong.

Tucked away on the eastern edge of the Latin Quarter is Al Mosaic, a North African spot that offers traditional dishes from Tunisia and Morocco. This is an outstanding place to get a hardy meal after a day of exploring the city’s Left Bank. The lamb, in particular, and couscous are a must.

Over in the Juares neighborhood, Le Jaures Café offers a lovely old-Paris vibe, top-shelf service, and a delicious menu, all at a surprisingly affordable price. The duck with green pepper sauce is drool-worthy, though don’t thumb your nose at the steak with mushroom sauce, either. And don’t forget to get a round or two of escargot.

Le Jaures Café has a surprisingly low rating on Google, but ignore that. Those people don’t know what they’re talking about. Over 15 years of eating here has consistently shown a delightful dining experience.

Viacheslav Lopatin/Shutterstock
Viacheslav Lopatin/Shutterstock
Viacheslav Lopatin/Shutterstock

Haunt the Paris cemeteries

Through the centuries, Paris has been home to many of history’s greatest figures, both during their lives and afterwards. Accordingly, the city boasts several impressive cemeteries.

The most renowned is inarguably Pere Lachaise, the most famed residents being Jim Morrison, Balzac, Oscar Wilde, Proust, Gertrude Stein, Moliere, Chopin, and Richard Wright, among many others.

Less frequented are the cemeteries Montmartre and Montparnasse, which respectively host the likes of Alexandre Dumas, Dalida, Truffaut, Stendhal and Charles Baudelaire, Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Serge Gainsbourg, and Samuel Beckett, and on and on.

These are not only photogenic and historic places to spend an afternoon, they provide a quiet place to escape from the cacophony of the city. It’s easy to spend hours on end exploring their chaotic hodgepodges of elaborate statues and tombs overflowing with ivy and drooping trees.

Rrrainbow/Shutterstock
Rrrainbow/Shutterstock
Rrrainbow/Shutterstock

Stop to smell the flowers at Jardin des Plantes

Paris has no shortage of wonderful places to sit outside and enjoy a sunny day, with the Luxembourg Gardens perhaps being the most visited park. Just east, however, is Jardin des Plantes, a stunning botanical garden that offers paths to meander through the flowers, plots of grass and benches for kicking back, a zoo plus collection of dinosaur bones, and a restored 19th century hothouse lush with tropical flora.

Bisou.
Bisou.
Bisou.

Go for classy cocktails or dive-bar tropical

Bisou. (the period is part of the name) is a sweet little place in the extremely popular Oberkampf district. Its decor leans hard into the color pink, and it has quintessential outdoor seating for people-watching. It also has a delightfully eccentric cocktail menu. Let’s put it this way: here you’ll find some uber-Instagrammable drinks to wow your people back home.

Located a few dozen meters south of the metro station in the infamously, delightfully sleazy district Pigalle, Dirty Dick is a dark tiki-dive where you’ll find an affable blend of local boozers and international visitors. It’s primarily known for its unique, tropical-themed drink menu and dimly-lit Hawaiian décor. Fun historical note: the bar was first launched in 1936 as a sex club operated by the Corsican mafia, hence the name.

I’ll say outright that you’re not coming to New York Cafe for the bar itself, which is merely adequate. What you are coming for is the opportunity to croon (or caterwaul) some karaoke with the locals. This is an exceedingly fun place to drink late into the night, sing a few tunes, and make some new friends. As an added bonus it’s in the fun Rue Mouffetard neighborhood.

Dom Dada/Flickr
Dom Dada/Flickr
Dom Dada/Flickr

Shop the markets of Barbes-Rochechouart

On the eastern shoulder of the Montmartre bluffs is the neighborhood Barbes-Rochechouart, a largely immigrant-inhabited district that’s thick with food and clothing markets. Marché Barbes is probably the most highly-regarded of these, as it is where many of the city’s top chefs go to acquire their ingredients.

Admittedly the neighborhood has something of a bad reputation, but I’ve spent a lot of time here during all hours, and found it to be just like any other city environment. As in any major urban area, be aware of your surroundings and you shouldn’t have issues.

bensliman hassan/Shutterstock
bensliman hassan/Shutterstock
bensliman hassan/Shutterstock

Hit up late-night river parties

While the Parisian stretch along the Seine tends to be its most tourist-infested region, if you know where to go late at night (we’re talking 2-4 am late) you can stumble upon some uniquely local after-parties that can include (but are not limited to) live music, drum circles, Romani dancing, and general boozery.

The most lively version I’ve seen has been at the Arenes amphitheater in Jardin Tino Rossi. Pont Neuf on Ile de la Cite also has its moments, though you should only venture there late at night if there’s already a crowd and you’re with people. A more regulated version of this can be found along Promenade Marceline Loridan-Ivens and Promenade Edouard Glissant, though in these cases you’re leaning into more popular fare.Want more Thrillist? Follow us on Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, TikTok, and Snapchat.

Nick Hilden is a travel, fitness, arts, and fiction writer whose work has appeared in The Los Angeles Times, Men’s Health, The Daily Beast, Vice, Greatist, and more. You can follow his weird adventures via Instagram or Twitter.

Travel

Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: Booking.com polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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